Have you noticed that, in general, people behave worse when they are driving than when they are pedestrians? So you have people rudely cutting off others, giving each other the middle finger, shouting abusive words at each other when they get the chance to pull up side by side. That’s when driving. But on the sidewalks, you don’t see much, if any, of that. Even on busy sidewalks in busy cities. People are generally nicer to one another when they’re on foot than when they’re in their cars.
Have you also noticed that people are mean and savage on Twitter or when they’re commenting on blog posts? You would think these are evil people who can never do any good. But if by chance you got to meet any of these people in real life, you wouldn’t be able to reconcile their online behavior with their amiability in person.
I even heard that a study was once conducted, and it showed that people wearing sunglasses don’t behave quite as well as people wearing clear glasses. Apparently, they divided some people into two groups and gave each person $10. Then the people in the first group were given sunglasses to wear, while those in the other group wore clear glasses. They had each of them ‘randomly’ encounter a beggar on the street who needed some money. Guess what group gave away more money? Yep, the people without sunglasses.
It’s obvious what’s going on. When people feel more insulated, like when they’re inside a car, or when they feel unreachable, like when they use anonymous accounts to post online, or when people feel obscured, like when their eyes are behind the dark shades of sunglasses, they become less sensitive to others around them and so act any way they want. They feel this barrier between themselves and the rest of humanity, and figure they might as well act as inhumane as possible.
This is a problem. It is anti-social behavior that can cause plenty of harm and ruin the fabric of any society. As individuals, we should be mindful of the things that tend to put up barriers between us and those around us. We should stay aware of when we begin to lose touch with people, when we start to separate ourselves from them and begin to see ourselves as better than them. The earlier we identify these barriers in our lives, the earlier we can remove them and the better society and humanity would be for it.
So let’s look at some suggestions for removing the barriers:
Build Fences, Not Walls
In our interaction with people, we ought to have boundaries. That way, we don’t have people taking advantage of us – guilt-tripping us into doing what they want us to do, having us take responsibility for their own lives, disregarding our time and personal space. One way we’re often tempted to build boundaries is by identifying the usual suspects who take advantage of us, and shutting them out of our lives entirely. It’s easier to do it that way, but it’s not very helpful. The truth is that we need people in our lives and we need to learn how to live with them, because they do come in handy.
The better way to deal with them is to confront them about it. Yes, that’s much harder. Set your rules, set your boundaries and let them know that you don’t appreciate those being violated. They may recoil at first, but will come to respect you later. That way, you have a fence between you two – where they may reach over once in a while without crossing the line – rather than a huge wall where you never get to interact with them anymore.
A wall closes you off from them. You would also be tempted to extend that same wall to many others around you until you’re entirely closed off from the rest of the world, letting no one in. It won’t be long until you start conducting yourself in the mean, destructive, anti-social behavior often displayed on Twitter.
Put Your Phone Away
Nothing beats person-to-person, eye-to-eye social interaction. We should aim to do more of that than phone-to-phone interactions, especially the internet-based kind. Even when you attend house parties nowadays, you see people sitting together, faces squeezed, poking at their phones. The phones have become barriers between them and the rest of the people in the room. One of the main reasons I enjoy hanging out with my friends is that they put their phones away most of the time, except when it’s picture time. It just makes it much more enjoyable and I feel I get to know them better.
We don’t know how to use phones effectively yet. We mostly abuse them. It would be nice to get off Facebook, get off Twitter, get off Instagram just for a moment and go out there to meet real people, make real friends, see eye-to-eye, sit down face-to-face, do some physical activity together and really get to know them. The barriers that phones put up help us hide behind the facades of perfect profile pictures and encourage us to say un-wise things we would rather not say in person.
Put away your phones and embrace your folks!
Speak a Common Language
I remember a time when a boss of mine was complaining about how “these younger people can’t even speak their mother-tongue properly.” My response was that I would even prefer that, because the more we spoke one language in Nigeria (say the official language) the more united we would be and the quicker we would get things done.
There’s a reason you’re discouraged from speaking your vernacular in school, at work and at official gatherings. In places where people have to cooperate with one another in order to get things done (which is almost everywhere), it’d be best they all spoke one language. Just ask the guys from the Tower of Babel if you doubt me.
Languages put a huge barrier between people and easily lead them to view society as ‘us versus them.’ This breeds tribalism, which has never allowed people to work together as a team, ever!
When at social and official gatherings, try to speak one language with everyone there. If you need to put a (language) barrier between you and them, then you shouldn’t be doing stuff with them in the first place. Please go home.
Avoid Lumping Folks Together
“We were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.” I bet you’ve seen that quote somewhere at some point. I don’t even know whom it’s by, but it definitely caught my attention.
I was talking with my fiancée recently and expressing my surprise at how some US Senator was opposed to a proposal from someone in her party. “I thought she was supposed to be hardcore leftist,” I said. And she wisely replied, “That’s why we should avoid grouping people together. We should learn to see them as individual human beings.” That stuck with me, because I knew better and I was graciously reminded to do better.
You see, no matter people’s affiliations, political or otherwise, they are still individuals. They have their own dreams and aspirations and they also have feelings like you do. The danger with seeing them as part of a group is that we begin to forget that they’re decent humans like us, too. We don’t like their political party so we hate them too. We don’t agree with their religious beliefs, so we condemn them too. We don’t think they pay as much taxes as we do, so we relegate them. It becomes us versus them, just like tribalism. And the worst of humanity comes out as a result of this. “Oh they’re just blacks, so let’s enslave them.” “Oh those pesky Jews, let’s exterminate them.”
Even though those extremes don’t happen today, we are still in danger of grouping people together, based on what we may think of the group we assume they represent, and condemning them to be that way forever. That’s a huge barrier between us and humanity and it can never lead to anything good. We are called to be relational and not judgmental.
So, I do hope that these suggestions help you to remove the everyday barriers you may have erected between you and those around you, or between you and the rest of humanity. And I hope that when you do find yourself insulated inside your car, online on social media, or rocking your RayBan Sunglasses out on the streets, you will remember that those around you are humans too, worthy of the same respect and treatment that you think you yourself deserve.